unMonastery 1.0

A Good Move  — unMo2
Una Giornata a Piccianello

Her fellow unMonasterians were aghast at Katalin Hausel, when already in the second week of February she was declaring that our real work should be outside the unMo walls: that we should burden our endeavors to establish a satellite storefront location somewhere where the people live?  Three months later, we’ve done just that…

As discussed elsewhere, the critique that rained upon the unMonastery prototype Matera from its inception was:  that perched down there in idyllic tourist zone A we were far removed from the people. If the unMonastery was to improve life for the town’s citizens this meant that we’d have to engage them where they lived. Katalin’s jogging tours got her around quickly; the Archeology Department of the University of Basilicata had launched an initiative to open themselves to the living archeology of their nearest neighbours. Our sights were thus directed upon the neighbourhood of Piccianello the first relocation community for the Sassi dwellers after the urban improvement projects of the Mussolini period.  After some years as a vibrant working class community, it had certainly seen better times.

At a certain point it was proposed by Rita Orlando that since three individual projects each had a demographical outreach component that they would gain max effect if they share the same target group. Maria Byck’s series of video interrogations then transferred their attention to the area.  Lucia Caistor also chose Piccianello as her centre of operations. Rita and Antonio Elettrico had local links; other ‘informants’and unMo friends gave guided tours of the neighbourhood (Rossella’s Mum). Katalin’s unGuide of local history, fictional and unfictional alike, already traversed the area.

Setting up shop in the middle of it all seemed a good tactic. We have good contacts. Rita knew the guy to whom Emanuele Curti had been talking who had absorbed the promise by local politicians to release unused communal space to local up-starts. The proposal had been put on wait – so could we possibly have the keys for three weeks?…

Two and a half weeks later – we did indeed have the keys to a large windowed room that opened out on a patio beside the new vegetable market.  It didn’t offer substantial walk-by numbers, but at least no traffic noise.  Rip up half a floor, paint two walls and wash a window or two; it was almost ready.  We could start without water, if we could only get some electricity; WiFi may have to be introduced in the next generation.

While fixing up the location, we still had to fill it with something. Ideas for public presentations were fielded, people had plans. Inevitably things grew – some fun stuff appeared, some leads went silent. The desire for a comprehensive PR plan with poster and website hit the regular bottlenecks. We worked very hard.

Our planned weekend coincided with a two-day seminar planned by collaborators at UniBas that celebrated Questo non è un paesaggio?. Our two day event stretched into four.  Two of the UniBas students presented a soundscape using tapes culled from interviews in the Piccianello neighbourhood in the workshop rooms of the unMo1. While most of the unMoaners were putting the finishing touches to the satellite space, Viral Academy hopped in with a kitchen crew that provided a thoroughly fitting atmosphere on perhaps the year’s first lovely warm summer night. The party rolled into the night while the unMo crowd tried for an early night.  Next morning was for dress rehearsal of the in-house components.  The seminar participants were to be marched through the unGuided tour of questionable artifacts and then meet up at the unMo2 for ‘Mapping the Commons’ work demonstrations.

International unMonasterians cannot be expected to grasp a second, third or fourth language over night. Any attempt to facilitate our way to deep analytical understanding is not going to bear immediate fruit. It is therefore useful if actions and deliverables are social in nature: people moving into unfamiliar groupings to meet one another under the illumination of whatever inventive context that we can serve up. Most of the facilitation occurs in the second generation: people to people.
We struggled a bit with a name.  The generic‘Mapping the Commons’ proposed for the grand scheme of things was not at all translatable even into English.  Everything else we came up with reflected nefarious colonial ambition.  Finally we fell upon a description of the simple fact:“A Day in Piccianello”; this promised no more than a solitary, almost coincidental crossing of paths.

“Una Giornata a Piccianello”  
sabato 24 Maggio

Laboratorio a piedi: Puoi mappare con un App?
Yoga e Kung Fu – prova libera
Poesia a piedi su Piccianello
Giro insolito di Piccianello
Musica live con il gruppo Allabbùn!
Presentazione dal progetto Mapping the Commons
—– Pranzo!—-
Workshop per il co-design del progetto
Culturale Centro Internazionale dedicato alla narrazione
Tradizione d’arte della cartapesta
Giro insolito di Piccianello
Esibizione della scuola Kung Fu traditional Shaolin Matera

in cooperation with Viral Academy media project
Mapping the Commons
Emmanuele Canterino

In a conversation with Rossella Tarantino just before lunch about the demographics of the Piccianello event so far, it was pointed out that the first half of the day became largely for friends. — it was afterwards that the cumulated effect of having an unMo outpost started to do its work…

Lunch may not have been more than a glorious picnic for the unMonasterian regulars. (Thanks Saverio and Ramona.)  But after the rainfall cooled everything down, Antonio brought in his cartapesta crowd as a fine counterpoint to the usual crew discussing networking that seem to follow us everywhere. Then in the evening, something most wonderful happened…

At dusk Viral Academy’s cooperation with the Kung Fu school gave their demonstration in the Market courtyard that gathered about 60-80 people around some music and their gymnastic display.  After this the unMo program felt a little bit thin – the band we’d initially recruited suddenly got a paying gig at a wedding for the evening, so we’d already served them up as orchestra tipico for the lunchtime crowd. What we could offer was a poetry recital and at best some improvised ‘facilitation stuff’…

Ringing our unMonastery wake-up bell, a small(ish) speech was held and people directed up the steps 40 meters towards the unMo2 location where a line of nervous young actors stood outside half prepared to read poems. Still waiting for their last member, the readers were politely prodded into action: the writer spoke from his heart, chairs were pulled out for the elderly, beakers of wine appeared, a group of 40-50 people gathered, and the 7-8 actors accompanied by gentle guitar playing took a bold step forward into the centre of the crowd to read the poetry of one of their number: Emanuele Canterino.  Maybe half the audience were our family – the rest friends of friends in the neighbourhood and passersby delighted to find something happening.  A small miracle occurred…

MA poetry readingIt seems a combination of something low-key and organic made the evening work without PR flags and amplifiers.  The unMo lights were reduced to candles; the pomp was left to the performers. It was a simple but significant celebration of deep culture between young people who believed in the naked word, and a statistically moderately older people absorbing this belief.  As Nalia, one of the our crowd of loyal unMo friendly pensioners, whispered to Lucia : “Questo è il vicinato.” (This is neighbourhood.)

At the end our unMo friend, Francesco Donnola held just the right kind of rousing thank you speech (MA2019 was mentioned at least twice) and then someone asked a spontaneous question that released a brief but pointed political discussion of “Why not do this kind of thing here and in other neighbourhoods all the time ?”  Those moved to do so spontaneously stood forth to share short impassioned points of view…

We unMonasterians were visible around the edges, but had purposely kept in the background while the hour had unfolded.  It generated precisely the kind of event that we all long for…

IMG_1585Il Piccolo Popolo di Piazza
Two days later came the second public manifestation of our move to Piccianello: a children’s workshop in  — Occupying Public Space –.  Once again we were fortunate that the compact nature of Materan society delivered just the right people into the very middle of our plans.

We might have had trouble; the date and time selected was meant to capture the children emptying out of the adjacent Scuola Marconi.  Nobody among our crew seemed to have noticed the fact that that Monday was an extra late spring day-off to facilitate the European election process.  Nevertheless we showed up, dodged a brief rain shower, and held an event for 20 or so youngsters using that most effective medium of 25 kgs of clay.  Over two hours the Occupiers took over the flowerbeds, benches and fountains.  Big thanks to Rosa diPede and Lydia.  (see separate report)

Unfortunate oversights 
Not everything was a miracle.  The program juggling continued into the final seconds; the CoderDojo event at the main house collared the video projector on dress rehearsal day, so our mapping projects got buried by tech fail.  A stupid misunderstanding became a stupid misunderstanding. The media crew packed up and left just before the magical transition instigated by the poetry on Saturday evening.  Visually it wasn’t action-filled; but it was the definitive highlight of the day.  

It was wisely remarked that the Una Giornata nel Piccianello events went off in the wrong order.  At some point the idea was to incorporate the children’s event within the Saturday — separating it out to give it undivided attention was another good move.  Had we, however, staged the children’s event first, it would have helped to draw the children’s parents to the market day; completing the circle through the generations would have been a beautiful achievement.

Recommendation/ Projections
The remaining task is to find a body of people who grasp the value of such a location.  Suggestions are being vetted. At this point the keys are in house for another 30 days…



The Parable of the Rubinetto
After our favorite straight man, Ben’s more rational illumination of the EdgeRyders/unMonastery working model had enthralled our inaugural press conference, we let loose the bloody poet.  Grabbing a not-coincidently nearby length of hose, he carried on in the tiny sliver of media frenzy remaining before the breaking out of bottled refreshments.   Attention was directed towards the nozzle; it had several movable segments…

Clearly this essential tool resembled the unMonastery project.  The behind the scene’s end that pried open the hose opening and wedged itself tenaciously fast with its concentric rings of teeth that root the whole operation in place was clearly the committee that had provided for the unMonasterani’s inclusion in their vision of social and cultural renewal.  We ourselves were the working parts of the nozzle whose delicate interplay shaped the desired flow closer the more heralded front end.  Our noble task: to dispense a “Fountain of Ideas” at a rate most suited to the intended splash.  We were by nature finicky, but given sufficient attention to detail we could vary from an accelerated cleansing jet of significant pressure to a finely dispersed spray suitable for cultivating delicate growth.

In an admittedly forced extension of the metaphor, the finally working part of the nut that prevented the desired setting from losing its grip was proffered as the ladies and gentlemen of the press – our unheralded but imminently useful co-workers should we need to retain the rate of flow.

Concealed beneath the rim of the table was the unmentionable fact that until the hose was attached to the water supply of the citizenry, it was virtually useless…
Fortune however shone as brightly upon us as did the mid-February sun: to formally mark the opening the unMo, the rubinetto provided most excellent acoustic properties for even an untrained embouchure to sound with appropriate pomp.

Repeated at 100cm intervals along the length of the hosepipe was the reassuring message: Made in Italy.


listening to the walls

“Souls in a Scenario”
The Hidden Theatre of the unMonastery
It seems that once upon a time I threw all the elements of my beloved theatre into a single pot on the back of the stove.  Given sufficient patience and even minimal heat they would reduce themselves to the bare essentials.

Those infamous contingencies of time have since done their bit to shorten the list:
some things defy nomadic realities, others require cumbersome precision involving paid lever-pullers.  Still others require making premature decisions, or even elaborate stage stuffing practices erroneously inserted to protect the poor performer from ‘getting it wrong’.  (With time I understood that anything that hampers the attendant fear that inevitably accompanies our work can safely be considered contra-productive.)  Even the presence of a verifiable audience is technically dispensable; a fiction can feed itself…

With the economy of wisdom these essentials have boiled themselves down to — raw people in a moment of heightened interaction.  I should be loath to pronounce it out-loud, but the ultimate distillation even allows that if the actors can be persuaded to people the scenario with their true selves, it isn’t even necessary to inform them that they are acting…

The unMonastery imagery soars – its real time walls and vista are no less evocative.   We are most convincingly in the right place at the right time.

MA am practice 2

Psycho-linguistic strategies

Bilingualism isn’t easy.  Once one has acquired a certain grace, and in a forgiving climate, it may only periodically provoke symptoms of schizophrenia.  However, there exists an enormous grey zone between acquiring a few meager all-purpose defensive phrases, and the death-defying leap required to successfully employ them.

People vary.  Having once survived a linguistic transplant may provide one sufficient faith with which to successfully negotiate the process a third or fourth time; still it is also possible to harbour the opposite allergic reaction of ‘never again’.  Those whose personal history has never forced them into the position of a linguistic minority may find it particularly naked to embrace the pleasure.

UnMonasterians are dependent upon nuanced, intricate communication with their host communities.  Some things can go through the filter of translators, some cracks can be circumvented via significant ritual.  Goodwill goes a long way.   However, to augment our capacity to have an effective presence in the field, every technique to build our linguistic proficiency should be incorporated into our daily practice.

The Materan flagship prototype quickly confronted exactly this dilemma; a mixture of uniphones, polyglots, native speakers and the chronically stubborn stood perched on the outer rim of effective public education with a thankless task.  In our practical reality, the mental gymnastics to absorb and actify Italian had to occur as we hit the beach.  The truncated projected presence for a mere four months was inhuman at best.  Lacking the resources of the KGB to bombard the unMonks with the hyper-learning techniques employing hypnosis, sleep deprivation, somatic feedback mechanisms and God knows what else, we were more or less up to our own initiative…

The latest contribution to language acquisition is the free net-based services set up by benevolence entities such as the EU.  A few hardy souls ventured out into the wilds of Duolingo to expose themselves to a scattering of rudimentary elements.  It is useful enough to increase familiarity with basics, but even when amplified by its in-built system of compete with your friends, it hardly provides a hands-on deep learning experience.

Our early duties at the unMo had to do with other survival skills.  Shivering was a universal that didn’t require an interpreter.  Eating was largely preverbal; recurring spells of ‘excommunication’ (unMo-speak for prolonged internet disconnectivity) left us virtually speechless.  If civilized conversation was indeed indulged in, it was largely saved for cursing the Gods.  When we finally opened our mouths it was to invoke a ‘No Complaining’ clause that forced us to shut them again.  The temptation to exist in a cloud of flawed or over-verbose English was irresistible.

To prime the transition to an active bilingual lifestyle, a subtle Italiano component was inserted into the finale of our early morning physical practice.  After loosening limb and fantasy in the most dramatic of circumstances on the unMonastery’s impressive walled terrace that jutted out over the rim of Matera’s fabled ravine, a core text of semi-practical phrases was introduced.  The non-Credo of the non-Monastery was pure indoctrination.  Used to both break our sound barrier, and to broadcast our ideological fundamentals, it stretched our ears and tongues over the rack of our individual helplessness.   According to plan: the unMonks, force fed foreign sounds and poetry, would soon become hungry for more.  In practice it was just plain torture…

Il non-Credo delle non-Monache 
Ancor non lo sappiamo,
nel frattempo lasciateci perdere.
Affronta i tuoi errori faccia a faccia:
I sacri muri preserveranno a nostra onestà.
Il nostro duro lavoro sará tanto leggendario quanto i nostri baccanali.
Ci domandiamo di cosa i giusti godranno a cena… ?

(my rough translation)
“Still we don’t understand, but in the meantime shall ‘Get Lost’.
Confront your mistakes, face to face –
      the Sacred Walls shall preserve our honesty.
Our hard work shall be as legendary as our Bacchanalia.
We wonder what the good people shall enjoy for dinner… ?”

Having ‘mastered’ the above liturgical component, we shared it with the assembled multitudes attending our inaugural press conference who gleefully chanted along with us. (The good old-school leftist mayor let out a delightful audible grunt of recognition as he crested the hill for the finishing line.)

We did do the sleep deprivation…

1399065_10200938452000598_1841970551_oThe unMonastery 1.0


The unMo
Designed to mobilse the ‘Collective Wisdom of the Group’ ,
the unMonastery is an unusual workhouse where nomadic freelancers  take up community subsidised residencies in exchange for their often highly specialised skills.

Parables of the unMon
If the last man finished turns out the lights, I get to write the last word.  On my secret last day in Matera in the wake of the LOTE#3 gathering, I finally crossed the road.  Not to the inviting Murgia, but to the neighbouring monastery that will so dominate our view.  In the unverifably old sub-church that forms as an invisible appendix to the XVIII Century edifice that we see daily, my path finally crossed those of our predecessors…

How does our unWorship witness theirs? 
The XVI Century social organs that erected these monuments reflected a spiritual currency.  At the top, the ecclesiastical aristocrats who dispersed it commissioned frescos left, right and centre; beneath them slaved the waves of worker nuns and monks who kept the operation churning.  Responsible for maintaining an atmosphere of religious fever and aided by generous amounts of sleep deprivation and chronic sonorous head vibration induced by all that chanting, they staggered about in sufficient perpetual euphoric rapture to keep the entire community convinced of their do-gooding.

Our version of the unHolier than thou, while it must seek this rapture, cannot afford to take shortcuts.

The Rigours of the unMonastery
Life in the unMonastery offers a cross between an artistic residency and a spiritual retreat.  Our progression towards one-size-fits-all praecepta vitalia (vital precepts) has not yet reached its conclusion; the collective journey towards this wisdom shall in itself become a source of valuable knowledge. While the constraints of establishing our Matera prototype require that these precepts evolve at an inorganic pace, drawing copiously upon both historical monastic practice and the traditions of squatters, can initially inform our life rhythms and decision making processes.

In choice of diet, interactive patterns and work load, we shall perhaps approach the model of self-development disciplines.  Only our development is of the collective self.  Aspects of our individual programming shall inevitably be dropped at the door.  Work is to be done.

Beyond designing a re-fit for urban geeks who haven’t yet succumbed to their gluten intolerance, the unMonastery is a service organ.  We shall survive by creating inviting rhythms and rituals that allow us to embrace a life of devotion in the face of a crumbling game.  Our medium must be internal human warmth. We seek to build a regime of personal acceptance and confrontation with a generous proportion of collective triumph augmented by sensual feedback.  Through communion with our deepest nature – the dance, and most excellent food shall be our currency of conversion.  Our vow of silence may become a periodic vow of non-verbalism.

Alternative Cycles – Periodic Regulation
Women who share the same roof often co-ordinate their ovation cycles.  It remains to be seen whether the creative powers of fellow unMonasterians will similarily coordinate to one another and to that of the moon.  While we shall observe the passing of each lunar cycle, our work week shall absorb the administrative rhythm of our host societies.  Life will be organised in cycles two weeks culminating in our legendary thematic open door rites of celebration.

Sleeping regime:
While we recognise that certain orders evolved the form of the solitary cell, we know that in many traditional societies operate with collective sleeping rooms.  Many of us have grown up sleeping alone in a single room for long periods of time.  To some this is beyond a luxury. A community of Indian social workers once expressed dismay at the Northern practice of giving children their individual room: What have they done wrong? what form of punishment can this be?  Traditionally monasteries achieve a purity of purpose via some form of  sleep deprivation.

Dietary regime
Restricted as we are to a diet of ultra healthy regional produce, malnutrition cannot be seen as an immediate problem.  However, many novices and supplicants have reported to not own their own bloodstream.  A transitional, rigorous cleansing period of up to two weeks is proposed.  This seems a particular adjustment for those from colder climes who may need to adjust both their sleeping patterns and digestive tracts.

Mining the unMonastery Metaphor
From the moment of the first public voicing of the unWord at the LOTE#1 gathering, exploring the imagery of the unMonastery has been a source of joy and inspiration.  What started as perhaps a rather flimsy premise has been consistently strengthened by the latent power in the history of monastic practice.

At LOTE#2* a sub-group spent three days hacking “The Lore of the unMo”.  (provide link if it exisits) Extracting direction from our collective associative matrix, we shuffled together a collective document that generated much seductive mirth.  Much later, a brief conference call comment from Bembo sent Alberto off on a pivotal exploration into the credo of the Benedictines.  (This should be considered mandatory reading – as it traces the evolution of a decentralised anarchist movement of radical dropouts that has lasted 1200 years.)
*Living on the Edge gathering in Brussels, November 2012 

To continue this valuable work of metaphor mining at LOTE#3, we chose to step into the future.   In a tactical attempt to lift our visions beyond the next mealtime, we went all historical. Under the banner of something appropriately enigmatic, three groups formed to look back upon the various époques that have so influenced our unMovement the last 200 years…

  • one group examined the unMo Age of Expansion and the influence of the Matera School with an emphasis upon the first hundred years.
  • group two examined the Times of the Great Schism and the unMo Wars through the fitful fifty years of unPleasantness.
  •  a third group sought to pinpoint where and how some 200 years ago the foundation of the unMo idea formed a Watershed moment in the history of interhuman/interspecies cooperation. 

The debate was as usual vigorous; an attempt to replicate its central threads is performed here:
(Books 1 + 2 were inadvertently destroyed during recent renovations, an attempt to reconstruct them from the oral tradition awaits an opportunity.)

Group 3 —    watershed = key breakthrough
decisive moments that enabled the unMo
to so negotiate successfully:

Although a minority of historians claim to have unearthed evidence among archaic web logs that reveal that the legendary early delegates, to say, the Matera Meeting of 2013, were an unPrecedented bunch of tossers, the accepted wisdom is to praise them for their foresight.

Key choices to avoid the divisive extremes of visionary projection, and to hold developments to the current realities generated a robust, flexible practice.  The early unMo communities became expert at the culture of change and in harnessing the collective wisdoms of groups with an uncanny capacity absorb positive organic small scale inventions that recycled much energy into their community service.

Their work was clearly  value based – not solely determined by the tasks at hand, but through an articulate shared vision that remained flexible and syncronised even when working in a decentralised, work distributed pattern.  

So skilled at transforming conflict to creative friction did we become that major organisations such as the International Union of Black Sheep and the Disgruntled Young Peoples’ Alliance ( formerly unEmployed Youth of the Earth) quickly found their way to the unMo.  The total package lifestyle solution that supplied a meaningful life of dedicated service and camaraderie, rapidly became so essential to many people’s existence that the unMo practice became the cultural norm. 
Once the movement reached this critical mass, it exhibited such acute flexibility as to virtually unUnmonasterise itself, providing a wide dispersement of wisdom without any signs of confining ideological dogma.

Perhaps the key development upon which the movements survival was predicated was the broad endorsement of invisible structures.  So culturally implicit in their collective decision making process did this become, that the unRule became dictated by the daily tasks and seasonal rhythms rather than any planning organ.  This new freedom quickly permeated the unMo vision of service saving considerable regulation and meeting time.

For example, since they did not seek to replicate the apartheid of the sexes, the early unMos required creative solutions to mitigate what appeared an impasse.  While the less unPalatable term of the unMonasterian still circles in the literature, (Presumably so us to not to frighten the uninitiated), the choice to adopt the universal gender of the ‘unNun’ was never unWrong.  As a demarcation of a deeper commitment to tweak historic connotations, it freed us of an insidious rhetorical constraint.  Despite initial confusion, it soon became clear that, independent of individual hormonal configurations, we could all stand proudly forth and declare that:  “We are unNuns.”

This ritual act of surrendering your gender was of course bad anthropology, most of us still identify deeply with our chromosomes.  Fraught with danger, this bold symbolic step towards redressing the wounds of the past, required  several years of contention before we acquired sufficient dis-entrenchment tools and the community was prepared to sample the wisdom in this idea.  When none of us are nuns; we can all take an equidistant step away from the subservient role historically thrust upon them.  If, during periods in our process, the work requires moving towards the traditional realm of the nun, those of both hormonal lineage could take these steps with respect.  Through the years other non-skill oriented general titles were employed.  These denoted seniority or perceptible personal engagement, and often reflected local social alliances.

The Art of the Party
The bi-weekly cycle of Open Parties fired the daily life of the unMos.  The 26 annual markings of the meeting places between what at the start must have appeared a minor, incoherent sect, quickly grew to become a vital interface with the host community.  Designing ritual celebrating for each Season, for the Elements, for traditional local and global traditions, and including children and families these most human of gatherings both enhanced and informed the strategies of community take-over and the de-unMonastration process.

The Book of Greater and Lesser Failures.
A key tool in the spread of the unMo idea was a capacity to admit our fears and vulnerabilities.  Not all unMo work progressed smoothly.  More than anything else the erection of ‘Strasbourg Totems’ as a central ritual element of evaluation provided the unMonasterians with a tactile manner to recycle their inevitable frustrations.  Meeting regularly round the magnetic negative Pole to balance their aims and strategies and process any unPleasantness.  That they would then quickly re-form around the triumphant positive pole to dance their simple truths of humanness, allowed them to keep.

At some point ER and unMo vanished as a distinguishable organ, dropping its identity as people became absorbed by a deeper unity of purpose.  Years of interdependence while constantly promoting fresh ideas and renewal, lead to the  dissolution of formal structures at organic points.   And while the functions of a collective work station for itinerant freelancers certainly became the norm and unMo-like houses still littered the countryside, so much a part of the fabric of life had they become that other alliances defined the networks.

The Birth of an Ancient Tradition ?

“La Voce del Tufo” – An unMiracle in Matera

Tradition reflects.  Often worn smooth by habit, it requires a second glance to recognise the original needs that spurred its development.  Every pagan ritual was devised by very contemporary pagans. 


The Stations
of the Storytellers

Heaven forbid that
we have Our First unMiracle.  Theatre works in mysterious ways:  it takes but the simplest of human ingredients (including the essential factor of the audience’s capacity to be transported), and moments of great beauty can transpire.  We did it.   Just barely.

At the event of Living on the Edge, the 3rd Edgeryder gathering: we were doing exactly that.  Perched in the last of the clusters of abandoned peasant and artisan cave dwellings before the stone Sassi quarters of the town of Matera are swallowed by the ravine, all roads lead down towards us.  Along the steep paths up to the city above, are to be found many an exquisite backdrop.

The call went out.  Ramona answered. Could we locate 10-15 local residents to re-inhabit their traditional residences and provide two minute anecdotes from their family history to what ever passersby we could manage to drum up?  Recruitment works best one on one.  Talking to people at the Pasta Party seemed a good strategy.
In the end, we had a bare minimum.  In the end, the unMo community didn’t consider themselves sufficiently alerted to the power latent in the culture stuff.  In the end, it was exceptionally charming and potent.  In the end, it is only a beginning…

This highly replicable ultra-human ritual of recounting the stories from the lives of our ancestors has now been placed in the loving hands of local culture workers.  With a small amount (2 years?) considered nurturing from the unMo, (as say the end zone party location) it should take root in the fertile soil of the community imagination.  It is highly possible that our ritual archeologist team have unearthed our first forgotten tradition.

The recipe was more or less straight forward:
1  non-stazione della non-processione
1 materani
1 lanterna o candele
2 minuti per raccontare la preziosa storia della tua famiglia (in italiano )

One appropriate spot, one local citizen, one candle, two minutes to recount a small story to passersby.  Multiplied by 10-15, the dynamic forms and light shifts of the passages between the half restored habitats stubbornly clinging to the outside of the ancient fortress wall would supply more than enough scenic backdrop. With sound shoes, the winding trip from the top of the steps by the Cathedral to the edge of the ravine should take but ten minutes – unless you were stopped upon the way.   The recruitment of good reasons to stop may or may not prove a challenge…

My unMonastery residency had not strictly started. The mother organisation had gathered en masse, but bitterly hammering out The unRules of our unMonastic unOrder, we were still in an adamant in-house development phase. We weren’t intending to be open for business. However, such an ideal opportunity to try out a core idea of my residential proposal of cyclical meet the community bi-weekly feasts wouldn’t come around for another 26 fortnights…

The hillside town of Matera has attracted the visually seduceable before; renowned cinematographers often summons its gnarled lanes as a stand-in for biblical times. Our work was closer to the now, and on October 31st had an additional impetus. Falling well within the mandate of my Society for the Promotion of Human Rites was the unassuming goal to demonstratively repel the insidious global pressure that replicates the fouler manifestations of the Made in USA distortion of All Souls Night. When more innocent Edgeryder voices aired the idea to arrange an unHalloween Party, it was now or never. One more year and the necessary effort might quadruple.

Of course, it was stunt theatre.  Of course, with 20 minutes to launch time, all but one of the vaguely promised participants had shone in their absence.  Of course, the Plan C, reflex disaster modus of transforming an elegant group installation into a frantic solo sketch would not have been a very pleasant sight…

Miracles are miracles. At the last second, up popped two players from the local gruppe di teatro. At an even later second, two of the Edgeryder lads allowed themselves to be pressed in slapping on some white face. To launch such a delicate ritual required a moment of political consciousness – two of the to-be-installed were not of this parish. The request was raised to bestow upon them temporary status of honorary Materiani.  The required nods were obtained.
Snatching a useful prop or two, we set out to people the pathway. I had scouted the route by day and found at least 14 useful spots. Now we were 6.  Some stray jars had mysteriously appeared beneath a bush; filled with a candle we had sufficient beacons to lead the walking audience up a dark alley. We were stretched to the limit. Each of us had would cover some 40-50 meters of shadowy door openings. Andrea and Nadia changed the route on me as we marched – their choice was better.
(*a key moment when it became clear for them that the visiting director had no interest at all in monitoring their content – and that of course speaking silly English was not at all appropriate – they would be trusted to speak from their hearts.)

geeks become actors
Pascale was the find of the evening. A local lad who had almost joined the LOTE meeting on the sly, he was lent a small hat and placed in the middle of a long steep stair. His story was earth-bound: of the manner in which his family prepared the bread for the week.  The audience was stragglers: a few of our conference participants who perhaps acknowledged that the cultural interface was the first manifestation of our collective designs. Interspersed were a few gaggles of local adolescents. In groups of two to five they were sent off into the night. In the distance, the first candle illuminated an incidental pair of young lovers.

The work of the piece was perhaps more complex than its performance. The recipe was a recipe. The individual spice brought by the performers could be ever so subtle; the voice of the stones provided all necessary amplification. Those that walked the walk met either a charming installation of local colour (if they didn’t speak Italian), or a vital aspect of their collective history.  Those who participated were overwhelmed by the purity of the performing experience.  Recruitment shouldn’t be a challenge next year.


THE unMONASTERY   :      Getting started
In the beginning there was the Office of Social Cohesion Research – Early Warning division.  O SCREW (I’m not making this up) begat Edgeryders; Edgeryders begat Living on the Edge (LOTE); LOTE begat the unMonastery…

Since applying the tools of the theatre to human gatherings promoting social cohesion is a primary strategy of the Institute of Non-toxic Propaganda, it is not surprising that I find myself with an undefined role on the unMonastery central committee.  Our initial incarnation is in the regional capital of Matera in the province of Basilicata, in the very south of Italy.  The first installment of inhabitants is scheduled for February 2014; there is a preparatory gathering of the Edgeryder clan at the end of October 2013.
Work remains to be done…

Most of our communication goes on online.  It tends to spread.
I haven’t done well with the sprawl; some of what I feel as my key contributions has ended up stuffed up a virtual dead-end on the outer reaches of the many circulating web-solutions. In order to provide a coherent thrust of the Non-toxic argument, I’m gathering my individual contributions here.  (Not being a saint, and not yet even dead, this is an atrocious act for a member of a collective to indulge in; this may be so.  In penance, I promise to spend equal time on my online Italian lessons as I do on gathering these bits and pieces into one place.)  Being just my personal contribution, they reflect the character of the gnarled curmudgeonous hermit grandfather monk repeatedly being disturbed in his cave by waves of unrefined novices.  They’d better listen…

If I have any grace, I’ll weave in other people’s contributions that specifically address the culture of the enterprise.  Yesterday’s from Alberto that bridges hacker culture and spiritual service was a pearl:

Alberto's picture

At yesterday’s call, Bembo Davies tried to make parallels between the protagonists of early monasticism and individual modern-day unMonasterians (“are you St. Francis?” “Huh…”). This prompted me to look into that particular piece of history in search for good stories and inspiration – therefore proving that you don’t need to be religious to be inspired by the lives of the saints!

I eschewed Francis (too charismatic for comfort) and zeroed in on St. Benedict, regarded by many as the founder of Western Monasticism. And sure enough, Benedict’s life and times provide plenty of good advice to anybody wishing to start or join an unMonastery. Even a cursory glance will tell you that:

– See more at: http://edgeryders.eu/comment/6022#comment-6022 

Sharpening the Edge  ( august ’13)
Living on the Edge is not yet a living laboratory where experiments vital to human survival are performed; conceivably, it may be an SOS call from those witnessing their communities succumbing to gravity; however, it may merely be a picture postcard depicting interesting initiatives by the wild and fabulous — We sincerely wish you were among us…

How close do we really get to the real Edge?  Until we supply our own vegetables, we remain an hypothesis.  Trained as international tourists, with a return ticket in our secret pocket that will zip us back to familiar cafés – we can gleefully glance at the potential for societal development present in our ideas, but we retain our individual lifelines.  Perhaps, we are at best romantic Edge-flirters?

Entering into close combat with the dirty dynamics of change, is quite another matter.  The real work of Living on the Edge begins when we leave behind our blueprints and project proposals, and start becoming part of each other’s lives.
The prototype unMonastery1.0 in Matera marks this transition…

Rebooting Tradition
A young Materean explained to me the career options in the area.  There are two major fields of study offered at the local university: the town is obviously full of architects, it also has a very high concentration of archeologists.  I am thinking that as much as building a new community within an old one, we should look at our work as unearthing an old community while belonging to the new one.  This point of balance may be the Edge we are looking for.

Archeologists dig slowly.  Sometimes they use no more than a slim brush or their breath to remove the layers of time.  We must also live slowly into our form: building only as we uncover our buried inner needs.  To enter into this dialog with the wall-memories of the Matera caves resembles the communion necessary before donning the shamanic mask: absorbing the spirit of millennia of inhabitants; allowing them to govern our beings and our interaction.  It is not unlikely that we must grunt, dance and sing before we can produce any well reasoned statement of mutual agreement.

It has been established by the glorious Rita
and seconded by the glorious Jessica that the unMo kitchen must be the Goddess of our Existence.  Around this primal field of interaction, we shall channel our mutual nourishment and develop our culture.  While it is not necessary that all supplicants to the unMo document their qualification as a gourmet chef; it shall be a shame if they are not so when/if they choose to leave…

The one mandatory qualification for a life as unMonk/ unNun is that we are humans.  Humans forget; denial is our speciality.  One task of the unMonastery is to become a library of experience: to remind one another.  Removed from the coddling of modern convenience, we shall live a life that confronts our civilizedness.  It is our capacity to surmount this confrontation that is the true fruit of our labours.

The Seasons of the unMo
A quote from my notes devised in Brussels about the lore of the unMo, awoke at least a moment’s passion in the chats : “Our hard work shall be as legendary as our parties.”
I think this provides a clue to a potential MO* for the unMO. (*modus operendi.)
I propose that the unMO year be organised around a cycle of 26 annual Feasts. These shall be our first apparent service to the community. Every two weeks the unnuns and unmonks open the doors of their enterprise to invite the world in.

Each Feast Day shall have a different theme:

  • 4 may be suggested by the heritage of Christianity: the Day of Generosity and Recycling, Carnival Days of Disorder, the Day of Denial, Day of the Dead…
  • four are immovable global holidays: Buddhist Mother’s Day, International Don’t Buy Anything-at-All Day’, Worker’s Day of Solidarity, Women’s Day…
  • each season could have its Agriculture Day of planting and harvesting and permaculture, the mid winter bath…
  • 4 Matera specific days of the Bread stamps and the collective ovens, of each cluster of Sassi houses, of stones, and of the riverbanks of la Gravina…
  • 4 Children’s feasts could include:  A Blessing of the Schools Parade, Storytelling Circles, Children’s Truth Day, The Child’s Parliament,…
  • 4 feasts are for the unMo phases of evaluation: realigning our civil society, Edgeryder Day, State-in-a-Box work, adjustment of our polarities.
  • Four times six is twenty-four, that’s 11 months worth – it is inconceivable that two more brilliant ideas won’t rear their head.

Of course, thinking about the unMo as a cyclical society that lives on in time, flies in the face of the budget that debates: three months or six? It is not always desirable to bend for an unpalatable reality

moments of great beauty  (august ’13)
At the March meeting between future unMonasterians and the host community, I made my first Italian witticism.  As we rounded the room with short introductions, I hopefully presented my job description as philosof di casa —  actors know a well-won laugh when they get one.
As an opening line, it both demonstrated and encapsulated my concern with tweaking the social dramaturgy of the human gathering.   In practice, house philosopher has been my role since the unMo idea was first unveiled at LOTE#1.  Philosophers often use words – I use many words. Sometimes they do take the form of warm straight-forward jokes; sometimes they are entangled in metaphor.  I like metaphor.

The metaphor of the unMonastery is among its greatest strengths. Even before any concrete action had began, the idea of a quasi-religious order of hackers living together under stringent vows, captured the imagination and a rich flood of associations.
At LOTE#2 a small group gathered to stretch the outer limits of the metaphor to see if we could distill any useful insight.  

We emerged with The unLore… edited down to it’s greatest hits it looks like this….  (to be unearthed)

The debate roared.  Adjustments were made.
possibility of establishing our prototype unMonastery in Matera
became a commitment to do so.  Calls went out for project proposals.  A key gathering was held between 5 Edgeryders and 40 some Materani in March 2013.  In the aftermath of this, I put out a trio [4?] of feedbacks in the well known, enthusiasm/ enthusiasm/ reservations model.

Bembo Davies's picture

– get there by all means
Recruited somewhat late in the Launch Meeting process, I probably arrived having less of a notion as to what to expect this weekend than anyone else on the team.  Let us adopt the point of view that this was useful…. Despite the fact that I’m not always an unbridled enthusiast of the public gathering, ours was unusually constructive.  

The launch was not the feared long-winded cutting of a ribbon featuring endless toasts with increasingly power-sapping vino.  It was something very much more potent: a strategically recruited constellation of citizens with a common will to realise their dreams for their community.  Judging by the tangible energy generated by the mapping process, they have every chance of succeeding…

If I try to recall my assumptions as to what I suspected would become the imposition of the greatest hits of a collective Edgeryder vision upon a rather unsuspecting community, our proposal seemed admittedly fragile beforehand.  The revelation during this meeting was that which I imagined would operate as an isolated hacker embassy spouting foreign ideas, is far from an action of imperialism or evangelism.
We won’t be walking into endless confrontations with non-comprehending locals.

Instead, my worse case scenario has been radically altered.  After the exposure to some 40 or so concerned, active voices, who sacrificed the first Saturday of spring to be put through the paces by Ben and the formidable Gaia via what can sometimes become a rather flimsy mapping procedure, it is clear that a sufficiently diverse group of people are primed, hungry and engaged in making our presence a vital catalyst.  The imported Edgeryders will not be fighting for attention, we will be quickly coming in contact with a vibrant group of people eager to run with whatever relevant stimulus they may derive from our presence.  Much could indeed be managed without us. If however you are at all flexible during the period we shall be in residence; I urge all Edgeryders to perform a pilgrimage to this truly inspiring community.

A chance meeting with (MA2019 Project Leader) Rosella got me dragged into her sister’s artwork renovation atelier for a tea.  After viewing the restoration techniques, we had fun proposing the idea of cyclical projected patina upon major restored artworks to satisfy the nostalgia fanatics like me who insist that restoration should by and large stop at stabilising or retarding damage, and that the tear of time should be visible.

We then discussed the unMo workshop  —  why was it so valuable?
The following emerged: most workshops are about the me — often they even get called self-development workshops — this one was most clearly about the We

Another lesson of the gathering was the clear sensation that we need to introduce a fourth column of project proposals to add to the understanding that they could be concerned with in-house, interface or out-reach objectives — it became obvious that the community drive to make use of our presence is so focused that some projects will inevitable be implanted.  The call to the community might be to devise projects and invite selected guests to become imbedded among us…

Next step for me: invited guest instructor at two Monday night drama classes.  The best way to work…


Thanks Mattias,
Your letter gives me an ideal opening for my second message from Matera.  (Oooops airport fog sets in , it’s the third and I’ll be repeating myself a little bit… apologies.)

I want to unmask my own preconceptions as to where I was heading out for.  These are clearly reflected in the suggestion now embedded in the unMO call for project proposals.  Having emerged from the two LOTEs juggling a short list of five imminently brilliant and pursuable ideas, I found it useful to devise a framework in which to classify them.  On one of the Sunday afternoon web telephone meet-ups, I proposed that our project proposals be classified as:  in-house / interface / outreach.  Hidden in this premise was the impression that we would be starting at subsistence level among an, at best, neutral host community that would ignore us if they could.

This was a defensive position, perhaps understandable, but far from reality.  Blinded by the bad PR given troglodyte cave-persons by a globalised popular culture, it was hard to surmise that the opposite is closer to the truth.  It should be no surprise that a city with a 9000 year old history supports layers of civilized human interaction that might put the cultural environment in say, Bergen, the merely 1000 year old city in which I live, to shame.

This immediately became apparent during our formal informal launch workshop last weekend.  Something unspecific about the quality of attention in the room, had me already noting down the following in my journal half way through the introductory presentation:
 … I have been jumping up and down saying that proposing projects before we are surrounded by reality, is bad development politics… dreams are useful, but they are dreams — We from the outside have been thinking about parachuting ideas upon Matera.  Even when we know that we shouldn’t do this, such thoughts are all we have…  (the rant continued)

By the time the slide proposing the in-house/ interface/outreach model came up, I was interrupting Gaia’s presentation with an engaged voice from the back of the hall.   Publicly taking responsibility for the exclusion, I suggested a fourth category based upon my reading of the  palpable concern in the room:  that if we were to be truly responsive to our hosts, much of our work should be based upon injected, installed or invited projects that had their base in commissions from the community at large.  I’d suggest that this is a lot closer to the way things are going to be working.

At least, that’s how things have evolved for a chronic project person such as myself.  Hence my warning to all you Project-monkeys:  be prepared for a life complex.  After four days in Matera, I gained an additional two projects to be constructed with new friends …  Which one goes first?

4)  Reality Check – the physical plant and the budget  (april ’13)

This is my third letter after the inspirational March meeting in Matera.  Penned on my way homeward, it is different to the first two which sought consciously to communicate the infectious promise presented by meeting the locals.   It occurred to me that several people might also appreciate knowing that, surprisingly, not all our structural problems have miraculously solved themselves…

…Solving another problem is, however, more pressing.  As was so eloquently pointed out by Matera born and bred architect, Antonio Acito during a private guided tour of his office/home dwelling perched at the prow of the town: if you were to expand upwards in extended magnificence, the Lego blocks had to come from somewhere.  For each positive protuberance, you would build a shadow space, excavating deeper into the mountain, creating an ‘invisible city’ perfect for temperating wine.

The ERunMo is not being offered a traditional ruin to refurbish from scratch – rather the opposite, a potentially luxurious ridiculous labyrinth of 6-8 traditional dwellings that have been internally united and renovated into perfectly acceptable standard, double-glazed working quarters, anno 2006.  However, our chosen string of buildings are, while idyllically placed with a view sweeping over the river valley, of humble origin; living in a wine cellar is not automatically conducive to long days perched over a laptop.  The caves which offer delightful respite during the heat of the summer, are reportedly a health hazard during the long winter months.  The key is humidity control that, until the ingenious appropriate technology is introduced, remains the bane of the Materians’ existence.  I suspect that spoilt-rotten modern urbanites such as myself will have a hard time adjusting the upper reaches of our respiratory tracts to this new reality.
A blessing may be that, once heated, limestone caves may hold their heat well.

However, without a viable solution to the interior climate, I suspect that we’ll suffer a higher than desirable turnover; with the appropriate technology in place, we can evolve a strategic pattern of day and night use, of heated meditative and collective space.  Fortunately, solving the practical problem of the space needn’t be a prolonged ordeal of trial and error.  Considerable local knowledge is readily available – already at the March launch-workshop a sub-committee of four architects was created to kit out the space.
(Although it was unclear to me whether this committee out-kitting was both to spatially establish walls and appropriate functional areas, and/or with some kind of furniture?   – please note: elegant Italian design permeates the region; abandoned factories that during the pre-IKEA epoch churned out Italian modern sofas and lampshades are everywhere.  This is by no means a scruffy backwater.)

Upon first hearing the term unMonastery, it jarred.  It conjured up un-useful associations of closed, self-referential aesthetes that struck me as not essential to the EdgeRyder gemut.  Not wishing to be incessantly critical, I secretly harboured the thought that the imagery of an ER-embassy would be closer to our function.  Since then, I’ve mellowed…

In my work as a Non-toxic Propaganist, I often work with FiNGOs (fictive NGOs):  the trick here is that by using the tool of fiction, the leverage offered by a seemingly massive organisational model can release vast amounts of raw vision and a sense of purpose that transcends the concrete actionables of our mundane political reality.  The concept of unMonastery has emerged as such a visionary tool…

This is partially my responsibility.  Having opened my mind to the imagery of the unMo, I have (together with our other theatre man, Alex) been a major perpetrator of squeezing, twisting and digging out potential cultural relics from the traditional monastic practice that could best illuminate and give direction to the ER work.  Monks rise early for pre-dawn prayers, monks take vows of poverty, silence, and of chastity!  What becomes our equivalent?  
I call the sifting through of such questions:  Mining the Metaphor.
The reality of the ongoing monastic presence in Matera is beyond any parallel cultural exposure in my life; one suspects that the per capita density of ecclesiastical homes may only have been surpassed by pre-cultural revolution Lhasa.  Our hotel, Le Monacelle, was still complete with chapel and meditative rooftop prayer cells that could literally eavesdrop upon services in the cathedral ruins below.  The Mediatec site for the launch-workshop itself was a Dominican palatial building on the main piazzo surrounded by three other monasteries.  On the horizon, at the outer promontory of the Matera plateau, was yet another monastery.  No one could supply the accurate count of church buildings in the Sassi, perhaps each of them had at least one accompanying monastery?  It seems that needs of population control in this part of the world was facilitated by stuffing superfluous young of both sexes into strict orders whose primary focus was to serve the community.  It’s a tough act to follow…

Questions remain to be thrashed out:  can I bring my dog, spouse, children, parents?  Can unMonasterians not partake in the glorious public dining practices of the town?  Is dancing with the locals verboten?   We can always import solutions from similar initiatives elsewhere, or being open, generous, and anxious not to turn anyone away from the inn, we can evolve our own mistakes…  Not having any form of collective self-government, my personal opinions on these matters are irrelevant.  However hard decisions are pending… Going in polite and democratic may prove too polite and democratic.

ERunMo residency — Bembo Davies

April 28th, 2013 — 7:59pm

My Work Project
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPoets work through metaphor.  My job within the unMonastery so-far has been to keep shaking the metaphorical tree to see if we can loosen fresh, relevant wisdom.  With a background in social pedagogy and as a theatre director; a large proportion of my residency will naturally go to thinking about how to stimulate our ensemble — How do the unMonasteriani best function together?

My principle concern is that the human, cultural foundation of our order will determine the success of all our subsequent work…

Beyond this primary area of interest, I suspect that I will have many sub-projects during my time.  Some may be small, or even invisible; a few should have larger contours.
I have proposed that we think of our work in concentric circles: that which is concerned with inventing the internal/ in house culture, that which forms the interface where we begin our interaction with the Materiani, that which specifically reaches out and serves the larger community.  If we can get this balance right, our work can acquire considerable grace.  Despite all eagerness to activate the outer ring, I suspect that it is often best policy to begin with and to continually return to the core in-house development.  However, during the March public unveiling of the unMo idea,  we acknowledged a fourth category of implanted projects that would be commissioned by local demand.  We are waiting for a list of these to be made distributable.  First step would be to cook down this list of some thirty genial ideas into 6 – 10 actionable priorities.

Once again the imagery of the unMonastery provides guidance.  It has been suggested that we balance between service and worship, work and contemplation, effort and openness; that we structure our days around the collective patterns of the medieval institution that has lent us its modus operendi
Given not yet realised unlimited economic resources, I shall endeavour to have as much time in Matera as is practically possible:  1 mth – 2 mths – 4 mths divided by possible trips to another project in Iceland/Denmark/Norway.   At the unMonastery, I want to experience the seasons of initial drive, faltering enthusiasm, attempts to reboot, the pitfalls of the structure, etc.  I have a shortlist of six projects which I would like to pursue:

I can see myself automatically contributing to the following collective projects:

  • The Kitchen – (in house)  an army marches on its stomach; from my experience at artist’s residencies the meeting place of the meal is the soul of the community.  Getting the operation smooth, generous and state-of-the-art will greatly benefit the health of the community in more ways than one.
  • The Human Rites of the unMon :  (in house and interface)
    devise the cornerstones of our periodic rituals with the unMonks and unNuns. I see my mandate as a social tweaker.  As theatre director my group management skills go beyond the division of tasks, and reach into the fibre of interpersonal connections.  Having already spent considerable time ‘mining the metaphor’ of the unMonastery, I am obviously concerned with further development of the lore of our prototype enterprise; the how of our unMonastic life.  I find it impossible to imagine that this continual work will not be vital to the sustainability of both the Matera unMon and all further ER extensions…This should also embody intensive early morning language learning rituals based upon my “Dramatic Occurrences in the Language Class” techniques.
  • ‘Culture First open consultancy’  ( in house/ outreach)   –  a conversation post for those desirous of stretching their projects.  My work with the Institute for Non-toxic Propaganda involves catching the essence of an idea and running fervently to the outer reaches of its ramifications.  Implementing incremental structural change and then blithely waiting for the culture of human interaction around it to adjust itself, is unscientific.  Addressing the cultural content directly can release greater vision and greatly increase the viability of implementing change.  Anyone with whom I share a dinner table is inevitably exposed to my well-meaning inspiration….
  • The Polarities of Triumphs and Frustration  (in house/ interface)  A project spawned by a discussion between Rysiek and Nadia at unConf I in Strasbourg that should help to given shape to both our daily and holi-daily activities. The twin totem pole proposal that evolved was followed up by several of us the next day.  The notes exist somewhere (Max?); as a genuine Edgeryder invention, it needs a firm commitment at all levels to evolve into its true potential as a key tool for all people’s initiatives everywhere.  I have proposed to James in Sheffield that I come over to his AccessSpace to do some preliminary work sketching some of the themes with his people – with so much on our respective plates, this however might not happen.Once we are ensconced in Matera, I would volunteer to flesh out one aspect of the ‘positive’ pole by leading an introductory 3-day workshop to unpack the metaphor of the monastery in order to poetically clarify the projects sub and meta-goals using a modified LFA process.  The other primary function of this pole is to celebrate our triumphs .  A sculptural centre piece to embellish our legendary dance parties may be just the thing, with time in can take on additional significance.  The apposite pole will also find its natural function – helping us to channel the inevitable frustrations and moments of crisis.  By allowing for this inevitability, one can circumvent much disappointment.  (At some point in my theatre work,  I learnt to include ‘Crisis’ in the director’s time plan that I gave young actors; it greatly eased matters when the crisis did indeed show up.)
    There exists a passive interface function in this the visible nature of this project.
  •  Open Rehearsals :  low budget dramaturgic development workshop (outreach /interface) —  I have a theatre project in development as the third edition of my Post-Pesters project to be devised with Marseille actress/director, Sabrina Giampetrone. My current plan is to do so in the passageways of the Sassi in Oct.-Nov.
    Sab frame( In 2012 we created “G+”, a short play for the Kunst-i-kit nomadic festival; Sabrina devised and directed the opening ceremonies of Marseille’s European Capital of Culture 2013. )  I have a scenario that can benefit the Matera project in several ways. The core proposal is for the unusual methodology of on-going open rehearsals, which are eager to try out…
    Human Beings have lived in the limestone caves of Matera for 20,000 years.
    The streets of the old town know the foibles of humanity inside out.  The third Post-Pesters exploration proposes to seek the knowledge of these stones as one would enter a mask – asking and listening.  As imperturbable veterans, we are in a unique position to enter into this dialogue.  Our research should take place clandestinely, in a non-performative street rehearsal that explores the core relationships of the actors.  If audience passes by, they will not be entertained, but rather discretely consulted, individually or small groups, as older, wiser friends…The goal is to emerge with an emotional dramatic structure that can then be transplanted to the stage.  Giampetrone speaks Abruzzi, Davies does not…I have applied for funding to pursue this work.   It is frankly unlikely that we get any.  If not, our time frame for this rehearsal must concentrated into 18 days from circa mid October.However, this project has recently grown in scope.  Under my Matera stay in March, I was drawn into a theatre workshop initiative by Andrea  Santantonio  and Nadia Casamassima.   With their cooperation, I can envisage an extension of the scenario developed by Sabrina and me, tailored to fit their group.  It has potential to develop into both a workable modular theatre piece that can provide seasonal employment, and at a deeper level a very useful social ritual that permeates Materean collective survival strategies.
  • Riff and Raff ( in house )
    I have two floating ER projects left over from discussions in Strasbourg:  working with Vinay to render his survival strategies message non-toxic asThe Gupta Briefings; working with Arthur and whoever is available to infuse the Government in the Box idea with ‘Culture First’ social-therapeutic elements desirable for re-building society.  These two could be done anywhere, but the advantage of bringing people to Matera, as opposed to visiting people’s homes or via prolonged Skype sessions is two-fold:  the mediative nature of the unMon environment should have both a synergic effect upon the focus work and inevitably cross-fertilise with other people’s projects.   It could also very easily spawn additional site-specific inspiration.

Time passed.  Applications for project proposals were called in.  The opening date was postponed for five months for undoubtedly good reasons, even if moderately inconvenient for some of us.  A compromise was launched; in order to retain momentum a third Living on the Edge gathering LOTE#3 was slotted into the unMo space at around the original start-up date.  How would this affect the careful dramaturgy of establishing the culture of the unMo?

A wild All-hallow’s Eve party was announced as the climax of LOTE#3. This collided with a sketch that I had in circulation that would carefully weave the activity of the unMo into the pulse of the community.  However, forward motion is not to be sneezed at.  The project is beginning to roll…

unMonastery_MIMERS_Hi-resRevisiting the Collective Self     ( June ’18)
The presentation of the room plans has opened the discussion up nicely.   Bravo.
I suspect that my brother the architect would agree that Space precipitates vision…

It is an amusing paradox that we are busily creating a New Tradition.
With traditional traditions, the answer as to the why we do something, is because people have always done it this way.  With the unMonastery Primo, we don’t have this luxury of history.  In fact, we have the opposite luxury, we are free to find the deepest human needs and design a manner that nourishes their expression unencumbered by tradition.

I have a lot to say; as a theatre person we do not always deal with reality – sometimes you begin in the fiction in order to locate the most playable truths.  To do this, we often take apposing truths that then collide to distill fresh vision.  This is to say, that in order to build the best finale we first create strategic, illuminating conflicts.  And let the voices battle out the best ending…

A major attraction to the unMonastery idea has been the incredible cultural richness latent in the imagery of the traditional monastery.  In my thinking, monks and nuns live a completely different holy life than that which I meet everyday.  They choose their compromises and adopt a unique culture of a disciplined, radical life-style.

As first time unMonasterians we must build the ritual culture of our discipline:
1)    Do we get up each morning at 0430 to do collective prayers and exercises?
—  these being visible to the town as we become known for our adapted vocal qi gong training at selected stations around the Sassi which also serve to learn key nourishing Italian phrases.

2)   On which selected days of the year do we drink wine?  I have suggested we live in two week cycles that each culminate in open theme feasts which connect our work with other social initiatives.

3)   When are we silent, in seclusion, fasting?  When do we perform community service, treat the infirm?  How many hours of the day do we really need infinite wifi internet access in every room !!? When/where do we sing together?

 Assembling the elements this culture will become the primary job of unMo1.
My thinking is that one cannot make this transition with the psychology of a tourist.
Entering a monastery has ‘traditionally’ been a choice for life.  Therefore, I have been reluctant to absorb the reality of a four month project.  This temporary commitment may reflect our unEconomy, but not the proportion of the grand idea.  

If the unMo Primo is really to be the flagship of the ER idea, it should complete a full cycle: descend, flounder, renew its mission, prosper, be handed over to the local community as a viable organ.  I am repeating myself, but it is hard to see this as less than three years.

However, if we really believe that we can be effective in short transplanted residencies; then it is even more imperative to apply solid social pedagogics when entering unMonastic life.  The transition time must be compressed to an almost immediate initiation period – the traditional disciplines be in place upon upstart; we have little place for novices.

As one whose professional discipline is building ensembles, I see it the first step of adjustment involves grounding.  It is also likely that steps 2, 3, 4 and 5 will also involve grounding; the modern psychic nomads of Digitalia have a deep need to feel belonging.  The strength of the Materian here and now may be the architecture; it demands that we enter into dialog with the walls.

And so I come to the space.
To join this traditional community is not an easy commitment.   To dedicate ourselves to collective acts of goodness, we may change our names and surrender all our previous life.  In my case, I must look for a way to pack down my life, rent out my home to a visiting professor to minimise costs, and reroute all my projects around the unMo’s frustratingly flexible timeframe that keeps sliding out into the future.

To attract participants into a life of poverty (from perhaps their life of near poverty) the unMo should offer something more than an adventure in unpredictable surroundings.
I think we should within one or two generations have developed a recipe for spiritual acceleration …

I am most concerned about focus and contemplation.  Ideally I would put monks in individual cells –  I doubt if our mandate involves learning to dig our own caves, but I think we need a compromise here.  In order to attract participants, and facilitate harmony, the sleeping situation needs to be less traumatising to people like me; four weeks camping out in a youth hostel would rapidly drain me of all energy.  Four months would be murder.

The other uses that we need evolve are our main celebration space:  It may be that no existing space is big enough and we will be forced outside (by tradition).  This might be the same as our singing space…

When I was there, I asked someone about the singing tradition in their family.
I (naively?) thought that cave dwellers would live life with deep resonance and the vocal manifestations of harmony.  As I moved around the invisible city, I kept opening my voice to find this response.  I found some spots in the cisterns, but was very disappointed by the dead sound that bounced back in the unMo location.
Of course, this was the quick tour, but the question must be answered – where do we sing together?  ( We have already chanted together to end our Skype conference calls. — not my suggestion.)  The question is how to locate this centre of power in the space ? — one solution might be to ask Andrea Santantonio and Nadia Casamassima to do some actor’s research.
(a link to the singing shepherds of Sardinia: Tenores di Bitti.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMddrMMqm00)

Historically, the Non-toxic Propaganda link with Edgeryders is attached to a scheme that has taken a while to get moving…
A few years ago it had the framework below… it awaits being shuttled into the history books.


The Stockmann Process
–  A mighty project is pending. It may have been pending for 20 years.
While we hope for the opportunity to provide a raucous formal opening of The Stockmann Process some time soonish, certain opportunities cannot wait for the granting bodies…

In the summer 2011, journeys were made to explore the potential for Non-toxic Propaganda/ Human Rite applications in the hub of human gatherings.
I headed to an eco-village in co.Tipperary, the 2nd Dark Mountain Festival of Uncivilization in Hampshire, and a long weekend dedicated to promoting the WorldPeaceTax in Jondal, Hardanger.

“There is possibly a return to commitment, as a pose at least, but often as an authentic answer to an appeal originating from our splintering society, from our fragmented and increasingly disastrous world. There is a need once again for commitment and dissidence from intellectuals and artists, even after taking the risk of amateurism and philanthropic naivety into account.” 
 – Lieven de Cauter in Art and Activism in the Age of Globalization

a workshop series
a student circus
a performance lecture

It has become generally accepted that culture has a rôle in international exchange and dialogue. Mostly, it gets added as a graceful afterthought. The Stockmann Process project addresses ‘conference design’: the culture of the exchange and the human meeting itself. We will apply understandings garnered from generations of theatre practice to construct receptive, participatory human gatherings designed to stimulate direct action and policy development. 
A selection of vibrant international players shall collaborate to develop the Stockmann Process through a series of interlocking ‘laboratory’ projects. The tools and processes that we develop, 
will be disseminated online with the intention of creating a toolkit for both artists and activists. 
In addition, the Stockmann Process will serve as a foundation for a book exploring the interface of theatre art and social change. Ultimately, we might propose that theatre artists should sit on the board of all NGOs as conference dramaturges and program choreographers.


Some of us still dream. There exists a sub-set of practitioners in the contemporary theatre world, who haven’t abandoned the cause of embracing a pressing social agenda. Infuriatingly they (we) are deemed marginal artists. Often ignored, we huddle at the perimeter of the cultural community around the flags of Theatre as Research or Theatre for Social Intervention. I have applied to the Ibsen Award for funds to work upon the interface between professional theatre tools and people pushing for reflected, strategic social change.

The Stockmann Process
“Hele vårt oppblomstrende samfunnsliv suger sin næring av en løgn.”

The dilemma of Ibsen’s Thomas Stockmann is our daily backdrop. Reality must be faced – but resistance is institutional. Modern society lives in chronic denial; hard decisions get swept under the rug of daily compromise.

The Institute for Non-toxic Propaganda is an extended theatre project that goes back twenty years to the 1990 Bergen Congress on Environment and Development (Brundtland commission). Its goal, as expressed at the time, was ‘to employ the powerful tool of theatrical metaphor to the concrete tasks of the environmental movement.‘ The core belief in this observation was renewed during my 2003 Theatre for Development fieldwork in the Balkan: “Theatre in Denial”.

Now, I feel poised to unite these explorations into a cohesive multi-faceted project…

Enemy of the People Workshop / Human Rites

The central thrust of Non-toxic Propaganda is to transfer the procedural and conceptual tools of 
the theatre to organisations with strong needs for dynamic, uncluttered communication. There are pending requests for my services with The Dark Mountain Festival and the Hardanger Symposium.
The proposal is to use these forums to evolve a ‘human rites’ model of the orchestrated conference. It will take as its springboard En Folkefiende/ An Enemy of the People. Mining elements of Dr. Stockmann’s stance and dilemma, we will use the poetic skills and tools from professional theatre training to counteract the costs of being silenced (or rendered ineffectually polite) by the ‘rational’ society that surrounds us.. These workshop will aim to stimulate the mutual self-preservation skills necessary to stand forth as a united community of loyal, Stockmann-like ‘creative informers.‘ — It is desirable to avoid a final act standing in broken glass.—

a) Dark Mountain III (2012)
The community of Dark Mountaineers / New Public Thinking, based in London, UK, is a constellation of academics, think-tankers, poets, organic farmers, etc, who have united around a lucid manifesto addressing the general desire for a considered future. My play, Extracting Enthusiasm in the Age of Crisis, became the opening keynote presentation at their 2010 First Annual Festival of Uncivilisation in Llangollen, Wales.

A general critique by participants at the Dark Mountain I (DM), was that the event hadn’t yet found its own form; that it resembled many others and fell victim to the model of listening to well-lit, microphone touting, largely male, distinguished speakers followed up by a dash of music in the evenings. Put succinctly, the event veered towards bad theatre.  One had networked, but the emotional momentum reminiscent of an academic congress, simply doesn’t reach the heights of a weekend workshop in say: rigorous actors’ training? — Where were we not received, fed and stretched ?

Meeting up in Brussels, at Kaaitheater’s Burning Ice Festival, DM initiative-taker Dougald Hine voiced this issue, and offered me the challenge to use the Dark Mountain community to devise a unique, more ‘holistic’ model for a conference. To do this thoroughly, we will use this year’s DM2 festival (late August 2011) to gather a core group of willing workers to collaborate on Stockmannising the 2012 festival.  Over Winter 2011-2012, we will design a ‘Human Rites’ model, holding a series of 3-4 scenario design / actor’s homework weekend workshops at Dougald’s exciting “New Public University” (to be inaugurated soon at a terrific 1200 m2 venue a block from Trafalgar Square!) Our mission is to evolve the “traditional rituals” that shall become the backbone of the future gathering. Our Human Rites may reaffirm our visionary nature, confess our conflicts of interest, and absolve us of our contradictions – but the door is always open, and as with all good theatre work, the process defines the product.
http://www.dark-mountain.net/about-2/principles/ http://newpublicthinkers.org/

Hardanger Fredssymposium (2012)
The Internasjonal Kvinneliga for Fred og Frihet (IKFF Vestland) work towards the inclusion of Depleted Uranium weaponry among banned items in modern warfare. We have talked about contributing to the Hardanger Symposium which for ten years has been hosted by Jondal’s very own Stockmann figure, peace researcher Johan Galtung and his chosen guests.

This August 2011, IKFF will contribute to an afternoon session on PeaceTax (Fredsskatt).  
I been asked by IKFF to respectfully help revamp aspects of the Symposium culture, and to lead a pre-Symposium workshop in the ‘action cycle‘, a tool designed to channel personal commitment into achieving barely obtainable concrete results within one week’s time. Although outcomes of a democratic, collective process cannot be predetermined, — among a fine collection of villagers skilled at mobilising for and against power lines, mineral extraction and fish farming, may be some who are dedicated to designing the 2012 symposium. The work over the winter would then parallel the Dark Mountain work. 

The cycle Hardanger/DarkMountain/ Hardanger/DarkMountain offers an ideal growth curve. Between these two events a progression of 5-7 tailor-made Folkefiende workshops shall be held with different constellations of community activists to help evolve the ‘Human Rites’ concept of conference design and social dramaturgy. Beyond the personal rejuvenation that individual participants experience; setting imaginative goals, polishing structural tools, and the theatrical exploration of metaphor should help these organisations refine their messages. 
In addition to the workshops built into the four sub-projects, other ‘Folkefiende’ workshops may be rooted among those active in political awareness raising in Bergen. 
A short list of local organisations that could use our social dramaturgy services to help design their campaigns include: FN Sambandet Rafto Foundation, PEN Norway, Attac Bergen.

2) Circus Stockmann plus / Folkefienden: Act Four
Drama = Conflict Resolution

The Conference Design question was put to Kai Fritjof Brand-Jacobsen of The Peace Action Training and Research Institute in Romania (PATRIR). From their base in Cluj-Napoca, PATRIR offer training courses and workshops. and are deeply involved in key global conflict resolution field efforts under the auspices of the UN (Nepal, Liberia, Iraq, Mindanao….). In 2006, I participated in their weeklong training program in ‘Designing Peace Initiatives’; my course evaluation offered some suggestions for change based on a dramatist’s perspective, and we have now launched a larger co-operative project incorporating the skills and insights of theatre artists in PATRIR’s work both locally and internationally.

I will be leading a 10-day workshop at PATRIR’s October 2011 event probing the manifestations of intra-ethnic discrimination in the Transylvania region. http://www.patrir.ro/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=57&Itemid=55&lang=en

During this initial visit, I will participate in PATRIR courses, while doing preparatory work with the theatre department at Babeş – Boyai University of Cluj-Napoca. Under the banner of Circus Stockmann, we will stage the fourth act of Folkefienden. As depicted by Ibsen in his the fourth act exposé of the culture of the public meeting, Stockmann’s islands of clear vision are surrounded by the explosive chaos of his fellow citizens. While staging the play as a whole seems hard going; staging this segment of the play offers strong possibilities for both capturing dreams and anchoring very real contemporary issues in an energetic, but definitively not-naive, youthful idiom. Within the context of the PATRIR project, exploring this dynamic with the theatre students will provide a powerful conduit for the voices of the young people concerned. It is also highly conceivably that the resulting piece may become a purifying human rite, where the ‘forgotten youth’ of Romania provide instructive feedback to visiting dignitaries from the international community. (Thus this project sports an intriguing unknown plus factor.)

3) The Gupta Briefing:
“En skal aldri ha sine beste bukser på, når en er ute og strider for frihet og sannhet.”
( One should never wear ones best trousers when one is out fighting for freedom and truth. — Dr. Stockmann, Act V

The third exploration of the Stockmann Process involves an almost traditional theatrical task. 
The Gupta Briefing is to be constructed around the Stockmanesque figure of Vinay Gupta, a crisis management consultant and co-founder of Collapsonomics, affiliated with the Dark Mountain community. Vinay is a hard-nosed, street-wise swami geek with impressive credentials. His hardware/engineer contribution to world peace is the hexayurt village for emergency community housing. His software work is as a civil crisis management analyst. He is currently hexayurt baron and philosopher-in-residence at Cloughjordan eco-village, co. Tipperary, Ireland.

Vinay is in many ways a modern Dr. Stockmann; like the prototype in Enemy of the People, he speaks reasonably while bearing harsh truths. His analysis of sustainable survival in the light of ‘state failure’ is critically important, yet hard to swallow; optimistic, yet bleak, his vision challenges our capacity to react rationally.

Gupta recognizes that his lectures, such as his Through the Looking Glass 2010 tour of Ireland ( http://vimeo.com/16426214), are ‘Bad Theatre’. Yet his message is vitally important. The Gupta Briefing involves using several rhetorical approaches to adjust his delivery frame, and working as a director and dramaturge both within and beyond his comfort zone. Much of his ‘lecture performance’ could stand on its own; however, as resolute Human Rites activists, we will augment his meetings with creative facilitation forms that carry the audience beyond feeling overwhelmed. As I put it to him: “Everything becomes inspirational TED* talks; we’re interested in what gets done afterwards.”
(* Technology, Entertainment, Design – Ideas worth sharing™


There is a natural relationship between The Gupta Briefing, the Folkefiende workshops, and the Dark Mountain Festival. Vinay’s work is multi-faceted, a useful place to familiarise oneself with it is his Bucky/Ghandi Design Institution : http://vinay.howtolivewiki.com/blog/

4) The Mary Initiative
Ingrid Stellmacher, founder of the Mary Initiative and the International Commission of Peace, leads a fascinating project of inter-faith dialog, revitalising traditional icons and bridging the fundamental belief patterns linking world religions. Our proposal involves working with groups in the UK and Pakistan using my liberating theatrical device of the Fictive NGO workshop*. (FiNGOs establish a non-existent institution with an impressive mandate, and allowing participants to pick their job descriptions from the top of the heap. This instantly generates an improvised community of empowered experts ready and able to move mountains to flesh out their visions. ) 
Our current suggestion involves laying the ground work for a pan-islamic women’s organisation celebrating Khadija, the first wife of the prophet. Norwegian-Iraqi Walid al-Kubaisi, yet another modern day Stockmann whose warnings are often shunted aside as inconvenient, offered the seed for this idea and will continue to be involved in these dialogues. While we may begin operations within the liberating walls of a fiction, you cannot keep a good idea down — even the grandest of schemes mat one day become reality…

*an example of the FiNGO approach used to effect in Inner Croatia https://bembodavies.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/baghdadosijek-friendship-society/

These four projects inevitably overlap and nourish each other. As well as visually documenting the individual events with video and stills, we will create a thorough and substantial written record of the process supporting these efforts. This written documentation will include this weblog to follow the work’s progress.

In addition, we shall inevitably return from this exploration with fresh shareware; a collection of tools to aid both theatre people working in the field, and field workers who choose to employ theatre in vital projects for community strengthening. It is intended that the discoveries from the Stockmann Process become key components in a larger conceptual toolbox, a planned book charting the contemporary interface between adroitly drafted theatre and effective social impact. 
The book gathers concrete examples from the works of a broad range of practitioners who have guarded the sacred tradition of theatre with pronounced social engagement. This cross-fertilisation from Ibsen’s most adamant voice to the front lines of negotiated social change, can provide a vital realignment of the rôle of the theatre in society.

Cloughjordan and global reach
Our conversation was rudely sidetracked. Into what had been a constructive debate on the concrete tasks facing a concrete community, plopped one mega-idealistic and to-the-point bloody text message..

The brief was brief. What would be the infrastructure demands and solutions necessary to sustain a Hong Kong-like entrepreneurial disneyland turbo capitalist ‘new country’ on 250 square kilometers of an unnamed Latin American country? Vinay Gupta, the recipient of this conundrum, assured me that such a scenario was within the economic grasp of the players putting the proposal. It was not inconceivably that conversations had been had, and that a considerable budget for project development might provide grounds to pursue the thoughts that immediately made themselves known…

My visit with Vinay had been dedicated to the theme of community development. I had been administrating ‘a kindly boot’ to inhabitants of Cloughjordan eco-village, co. Tipperary, somewhere right in the middle of Ireland. I do so in the form of my guerilla lecture party piece: “Extracting Enthusiasm in the Age of Crisis”. Given that during the play, I brandish my banner of Culture First , our post-performance conversation had quite logically emphasized rituals of social cohesion.

Poking around the village, things looked promising. The site was a buzz with a dozen or so building projects. Even where the gardens hadn’t yet been landscaped, the previous year’s crop of houses had roofs on, and were clearly inhabited. Pipes, supplying communal woodchip fired central heating, stuck up out of the ground anticipating further builds. In the shadow of an ancient feudal society, people were cultivating a fresh community.

My theatrical meeting had tweaked many questions about the psychic infrastructure desirable to maintain more than the organic vegetable plots; about whether the specifications for insulating the roofing included a provision that all houses be built with a ‘granny flat’ to keep at least three generations under one roof. Since my piece boldly declares that it is “research into the nature of the perfect human gathering”, the post-performance dialogue rapidly focused upon the culture of their get-togethers. The number of committees established in order to deal with the tasks of the common good was merely indicative of the inevitable social balancing act that stands central in the culture of community. Nevertheless, Cloughjordan seemed as good a place as any for stumbling forth into the unknown.

However, it was the Latin American proposal that followed me on my voyage home…
Several givens where supplied by the indicated Hong Kong model: central were perhaps naive myths of a pure free-market economy nurtured by a benign British administration that facilitated access to international markets (and skimmed substantial wealth) while sustaining growth rates unknown elsewhere. Less visible, though most likely more decisive, was the strong social capital supplied by the Cantonese, where the family web provided a disciplined, literate, organised peoples dedicated to converting their living spaces into machine shops should the promise present itself.
From my know-it-absolutely-all outcrop in Northern Europe, my imagination couldn’t immediately replicate these conditions on, say, the west coast of Columbia. Rather, I would place the strengths of the people of our ‘hypothetical’ Latin American host country, somewhere else. I strongly suspect that the unique advantage in promoting a sustainable community in Latin America would be built upon the social capital provided by.the comprehensive ideological education combining the irrepressible elements of Liberation Theology, the blossoming aboriginal spiritual renewal movement, and the organisational strengths of residual Marxist-Leninism. Without incorporating these cultural advantages, our New Kong couldn’t possibly withstand the social upheaval it would otherwise provoke.

Social Sustainability — You can’t Eat Tourists
Given that several of the major proposal makers were based in Southern California, it might seem a paradox to them that this socially cohesive community should be created without the caste of Latino untouchables that holds the USofA going. But would it not be appropriate to suggest that rather than replicate Californian apartheid, that life in this new country of justice and vision shall gain its advantage from a combination of state of the art micro technologies and a profoundly low energy resource demand. To compensate for the pampered hyper-consume that dominates nearly everywhere else – we offer a unique cultural experience. For those arriving from outside this transition may prove highly addictive…

Governing Principle #1: No Parachuting — everyone shall work his/her way up the dung heap.
The greatest value of any society is social cohesion. It requires considerable investment. It cannot be proclaimed from above, but must be built among the interpersonal relationships that comprise our everyday interactions. In the proposed hybrid multicultural creation, this includes several challenges. Clear principles should be drawn up at the beginning. To help shed ones cultural baggage, visitors from the outside would be met with a series of rituals that immediately activate each individual in the social hierarchy of the community. A proactive Buffer zone of 5 km where new arrivals cut the cord of international travel, and then use dugout or donkey to arrive at welcoming camps where every one receives nourishment and a desirable steam bath/oil massage. In lieu of arrival taxes (or as a supplement), every temporary and permanent resident invests their labour into the Commonwealth. The question of shall it be feet work, knee work, back work, animal work, tongue work or elbow work can be addressed during the initial mud bathing ceremony. One is then anointed into a Guild according to ones potential contribution and marketable skills. These guilds are more than work teams; they are also totem mask societies and carnival families that permeate all levels of society and promote lateral relationships across habitual social pathways.

Issues of lingua franca must be addressed early on – those who are not at least functionally bilingual shall require a special round of investment to avoid the worst manifestations of imperialism. Conceivably with hourly gongs announcing a switch of national tongue, knowledge channeling is deemed as important as economic commerce.

Joy of Muck
The antidote to consumer hedonism is not aestheticism, but productive hedonism. As the Cloghjordan experience indicates the culture of the work teams constructing a new community gives a key opportunity to provide cohesion training. Rituals of triumph that accompany a job well done in a bi-cultural team constructing a new society, can provide a gut-level understanding of the costs of maintaining common services. Initial projects needn’t be more than a month as a mason’s assistant, or constructing your own unit at the hexayurt hostel. During these common investment periods, the local culture of health promoting yoga and dance sessions would be augmented by storyteller/philosopher meetings within the Totem Guild structure. Sounds like the good life.


Mining the Metaphor — project proposal for Dark Mountain III

The third strand of the Stockmann Process has been exposed to the fabric of the Dark Mountain Festival of Uncivilization.
The framework of this people’s gathering was half familiar : a wooded facility above the village East Ceon, Hampshire, three days under canvas, a program of enticing events; articulate, informed people with or without axes to grind, meetings with or without microphones, discussion with or without moderation; rhapsodic interludes, a challenging cuisine…

The pleasures of rubbing shoulders with concerned, dedicated people balanced nicely with the enormity of the tasks ahead. If we became at all uncivilized, it was to the degree that we were willing to acknowledge our despair. Mostly, folk remained civilized.

The brief of the Stockmann Process is to devise social dramaturgical tools to lift such meetings beyond the familiar. In the rhetoric of the festival organisers – to move things into their ‘discomfort zone’. While significant structural steps were taken from the previous years‘ more amorphous event, the nature of the Dark Mountain expedition is inevitably breathtaking; there were considerable pauses along the road to admire the view. Is there a pathway that can get us further faster? …

Since the Dark Mountain Two event the following discussion has circulated between myself, Resident Storyteller Tom Hirons, and no-title-given Catherine Lupton. It is getting too big for its environs and deserves a place on the Dark Mountain website. Until I can figure out how to do that it appears here in a lightly edited version:

Hallo Catherine;
I hadn’t realised that you were as much of a DM devotee as I am. I stayed another night, got in three good walks in the terrain before heading back to Civilisation. The digestion time was put to good use — once I plumped myself down by Waterloo, out came a design for the sifting of common points of departure exercise that we were mulling over. Since you were there for the initial seeds of the idea, I’m sending it first to you for comments. If you haven’t time, don’t worry, i’ll get back at it once I’m done in Bruxelles – and get at Dougald with it:

Constellations of Concern
– mining the Dark Mountain metaphor

The inevitable osmotic process of campfires and tenting distilled the following dramaturgic considerations: Which of the forces unleashed by the inherent content of the Dark Mountain gathering can be amplified through structural choices? How could one tighten the process as to harness the intense (sun-enhanced) warmth of our closing circle?

The festival operates with several low-threshold intrinsic functions: a renewal of our outrage, a celebration of our togetherness, an arena for personal networking. Beyond this lurks the much fêted discomfort zone, and a pressing question: Should not our ‘doing things’ include a formal engagement in organising our common future? It is in this area that people arrive with widely differing priorities. Until now the organisation of the multi-tier forum of the Dark Mountain anthology, regional meetings, web-site, and annual festival has been deemed a more than sufficient minor miracle. Beyond this, channeling the individual’s disparate agendas into common action may not be essential to the DM festival experience. But, as several participants indicated, tools to enhance the culture of our meeting, and to spark deeper cohesion, are available. In seems inevitable that given the dynamics of such high quality people meeting to address concerns affecting their nearest and dearest, something will come out of it…

Totems of the Clan
Individuals may express more or less urgency or optimism, their crying need for reassurance that their own efforts prove admirable may oscillate, but, as expressed by the many, the key delight of the Dark Mountain gathering is the safe assumption of a broad agreement as to the perilous state of the world.

This admission is the prescribed essential first step on the recovery process from chronic PTSD.
However, people’s perceptions as to the organic choices that then form step number two, vary considerably. Despite the broad congruence of concern, it then remains unavoidable that one uses the allotted days to sort for people who share a parallel approach in their personal preparation for the future.

To modify the festival structure in a non-toxic propaganda direction and incorporate a Human Rites design, falls well within the brief of the Stockmann Process. My suspicion is that participants would relish a sensation of an accelerated, supported process. To devise a participatory ritual that acknowledges these various allegiances and strategies seems a fruitful approach.

My immediate proposal is the creation of sub-plots that promote the experience of DM as a tactical application of the time spent together that directly augments ones daily efforts to further both personal and societal development. Building upon my recent workshop at the Hardanger Peace Symposium (see Activating Pacifists elsewhere in blog), I then propose supercharging people’s personal mission through Mining the Dark Mountain Metaphor. This can either done on site, or through a series of preparatory workshops. Ideally, we could do both…

The imagery of the Dark Mountain looms high; the language of peril, peaks and darkness is rich. Exploring this territory readily releases associations that can provide useful direction with which to pursue the work. Of concern to the pedagogy of any further pursuit, I am reluctant to unpack my initial findings, but groggy with post-festival fever and perched over a bowl of soup at a café table, at least eight viable job descriptions or rallying flags occurred to me within ten minutes. Through launching a further free association round in a desirable collective process, the number of certified keepers would rapidly swell.

I can envisage three approaches to this based upon the same strategy of channelling the inherent divergent internal forces into clans of related concern:
The arduous one of my writing and rehearsing a companion edition to Extracting Enthusiasm, (my ‘guerilla lecture party piece’ that kicked off last year’s first Dark Mountain Festival in Llangollen.) Perhaps rechristened the DM expedition manual, a convincing guided tour could lead festival participants in identifying how they thought about their contribution. Having identified their most amenable realm of effort, facilitated ‘concern constellations’ could be convened. This meeting of co-conspirators could be programmed with at least one repetition during the run of the weekend.
Another way to the same structure, is to invite people to identify their strengths and concerns through a ritual welcome upon their initial arrival and check-in. ( Again there is room for both processes. ) To develop these themes it would be desirable to form a core-group; and a preliminary Mining the Metaphor workshop, perhaps held via Dougald’s New Public University project Workshop participants could potentially serve as group facilitators.


Hi Bembo,
Much appreciate you sending me this, and on a first, late-night read through, it looks good. To mention first that, having just blogged about the ritual experience of Uncivilization, I had a very interesting response from Tom Hirons also flagging a desire to make the rites element more explicit, and so help people process their way through the stages of the experience.

So, I will read and ponder this and come back to you with more thoughts soon.

Second read through, some additional thoughts. There is so much post-Uncivilization synergy to keep a-swim with.

I’m copying into this Tom Hirons, as we’ve been corresponding about the ritual dimensions of the festival, and he has training and experience leading threshold rites. (Tom, Bembo’s original thoughts should appear below, so keep on a’reading.)

I’d welcome elaboration on how the sub-plots might work, the continuous threads that would be present through the festival or pop up strategically at certain points. Feeling that an opening session (next paras) is easier (for me) to imagine than the processes that would then keep its energy and insights running throughout.

Thinking further into the idea of some form of fully participatory opening session, using a range of social dramaturgy techniques with the emphasis on physically moving people in space, out of comfort zones, and into activated participation.

Comfort zones: the people you arrived with, the tribes or groupings towards which you instinctively gravitate, your unspoken web of social inclusions / exclusions, whatever ‘work’ you’re already doing, the roles / things that you identify with / as, your story/stories.

Wondering if, because a central track of Dark Mountain is to do with stories, there’s fruit in pushing people to a concise articulation of their own meta-narratives, following John Rember’s description of same in his Dark Mountain 2 essay, eg one among mine is We’re Basically Good People And We’ll Work It Out Somehow 🙂

Liking the idea of a Mining the Metaphor core group, who could carry and facilitate the process into / through the festival. One thing that comes around for me is the potential for things to get seriously, seriously explosive, as comfort is challenged and as grief, rage, brokenness, loss of power etc, etc come pouring out – small eg: whatever was going down in the Saturday night Hexayurt row. Trusting that the process will ‘hold’ that, partly by knowing that there are individuals on hand who know how to work with it.


Great, it feels to me that you’ve grasped all the salient threads of what i am on about. Good to have Tom aboard.

My experience with the sub-plots, is that once given permission people usually get on with what’s good for them; having articulated their perceived needs and made a few key personal liasions might be enough. The very act of having made a perhaps flimsy commitment to a sub-issue that then results in one being shepherded off to some yurt, is in itself contrary to the more passive seminar model.

At the same time, I agree that the opportunities to deepen things emotionally does really belong, every other person I talked with was some kind of psychotherapist. Let us not assume too much now, and see if we can carry a progressively clearer shared vision into hopefully strong enough imagery that will support all these explorations…


Hi you two – I’ve had to catch up on some background reading to
understand parts of this fascinating conversation! Dramaturgy? Never
heard of it until yesterday. My head’s bursting, but more of that later.

I’m liking what I’m reading here. My first concern, though, is a very
basic one and (for myself, at least) at the heart of both the strengths
and problems of Dark Mountain, especially in its ‘festival’ outfit. It’s
this: what are people actually going to the festival *for*? Some, no
doubt, are going with the hope of deep soul-encounters, transformation,
challenging journeys that initiate them deeper into the mysteries of
being, etc. Some are going for the support of a community of like-minded
or like-hearted humans, presumably believing that there’ll be at least a
few under the Dark Mountain umbrella that share their particular
preference of -ism or ways. Some are going to learn, for information,
for an unpredictable experience. Some are going to further their own
manifesto, promote their work, pursue agendas I can’t even begin to
guess at. Etc. Etc. Etc. Hell, some might even be going under the
impression that it’s a ‘festival’… T in the Woods kind of thing.

What is it?
Is it a village, the woody grandchild of Burning Man?
Is it a conference, with mud?
Is it an artists’ convention or a political exchange or…

I know there isn’t a single answer to this. And that the self-filtering
process that you describe, Bembo, would allow people to gather around a
flag of their choosing within the Dark Mountain circle [the trickster in
me would also like to see them then catapulted into an ‘opposite’ circle
for a day at least: the intellectuals into the contact dance circle; the
clowns into the counselling circle; the elders into the play tent; the
stags into the ewes; etc. Thank god I’m not in charge…]

But I do think that any ritualising of Uncivilisation has to keep asking
that question – what is it for? Without expectation of a fixed answer,

I suppose one place I’m coming from is wanting to involve the most
hardened cynical ‘not-a-tree-hugger, me…’ and the most
touchy-feely-let’s-all-process-together in a way which is useful for
both of them. Ritual badly done just puts people on the defensive,
pushes buttons without a net to catch them in, divides without purpose.

With that intro, let me just add a few thoughts.

One of the most thought-provoking moments for me during the whole
weekend was during liminal, when the slow, shuffling train of audience
came to the woman (I don’t know who it was) holding the bowl of water.
Now, hearing her words as an offering of something precious, I stopped,
asked if I could drink and offered the bowl to Rima, then drank myself.
No one ahead of us that I could see had drunk, but when I looked back
afterwards, almost everyone was. It got me to thinking that the offering
could be regarded as some kind of initiatory ‘test’ (not in the sense of
right/wrong challenge, but as a filter.) There’ll be some who will just
walk past, some who’ll stop and drink, some who’ll offer to others, etc.
It put me to thinking how wonderful it’d be to create an initiatory
ritual composed of such tests that gradually filter according to certain
qualities and then offer experiences relevant to that filtering. When we
came to the guy (Dougie?) lying curled naked, I was going to offer to
take his place – he looked cold – but drew back into myself and let
myself continue as an observer (the pace of the procession had swiftened
and I’d concluded that I was ‘meant’ to just carry on observing and
didn’t fancy tinkering with the liminal creation!) Had I done so, a
whole other show and experience would have resulted for me. Like I said,
I imagined a whole series of such encounters, ‘testing’ generosity,
compassion, rebelliousness, chutzpah, empathy, strength, flexibility,
etc etc.

Just a thought.

Also, I was remembering just now a ceremony we had at the end of a Dance
Camp I went to back in ’96 – at the end of 10 days camping together (no
electricity, built most of the site structures ourselves [apart from a
wonderful sauna, ah…] about the same number of folk as Uncivilisation)
– where some of the art-structures we’d built were made into a huge
bonfire, around which pretty much everyone gathered, with quite a gap
between the fire and the circled crowd. Someone, a space-holder, then
said a few words of explanation about what we were doing, which was to
dedicate the energy we’d built together to well, anyone, as a ritual
event. They began to call out, ‘who will run for the…
Women?’ At which point everyone who wanted to offer their energy to The
Women ran a circuit of the track round the bonfire to whoops and
cheering from the crowd.
‘Who will run… for The Men?’ And so on.
‘Who will run… for the Children?
for the Trees?
for the Native Americans?
for the Elders?
for them in wheelchairs?
for the Poor?
for the Angry?
for the Extraterrestrials?’

Etc. You get the idea.
I mention it because it was a ritual that at the same time brought
people together in a common experience *and* allowed/encouraged them to
express their individual allegiances. (It was great. The presence of a
large enough crowd made it a fantastically noisy, exuberant,
almost-chaotic affair.)

Enough for now.
I feel my challenge in this conversation is to keep my feet on the
ground, not get lost in theory. I found a lot of Uncivilisation very
intellect-oriented and a lot of the folk there very much in need of
sinking their awareness from their heads down to their feet. I’m a
terrible one for getting carried away with an idea – I’m glad to be part
of this conversation, but I’m not sure yet what I have to offer. I do
know some practices that work and some that don’t and I’m happy to be
privy to your thoughts and offer mine.

And now, into the garden, where the forces of wilderness are getting
entirely the wrong idea about how it’s all meant to happen!

All the best & I hope I haven’t rambled too long & off-topically…


ps I myself valued massively the chance to stay an extra night and
unwind properly with fire and good craic and the occasional flurry of
wise conversation – a very different experience from the weekend, which
was largely Hard Work. Without that (if we’d left at 5 on Sunday) I
don’t think I’d be having this conversation. It was a valued and
possibly necessary part of my Incorporation process. More about that
next time. T

Tom, Catherine

This is a very positive discussion about something evidently close to all our hearts. I suggest we remove it all unto the DM blog so that others can follow the rationale (Tom: this is another fancy word for the heaping of ideas upon one another constructively). Right now, I’m on borrowed technology; I can likely figger out the how of doing so once home. Both of seem old hatters to the blog – give word if you’d prefer to remain under wraps.

Yes, discomfort zone implies that if one suggests clusters of adherence, then it is also in order to provide some counterweight from which people can wander off into the further reaches of their own unknowns.

(this should be suppressed dept.) It struck me that it is indeed possible that the pace of encroaching reality may be such that any given DM festival may be the last. It would then be exceedingly useful if the direction gained through the process might be precise enough so as to become a potential default pathway. Not to say that this is imperative, but that the thought process it invites, can give further clues as to how to sharpen the themes.

Hi Tom & Bembo,

Thanks very much for your further responses, this is enriching more and more. Like good soup. Agree that it would be good to take this conversation over to the Uncivilization site and / or the Dark Mountain blog, for wider input. It’s rapidly morphing beyond an ‘opening ceremony’ into ideas for reshaping the whole festival, so wondering practically about when/where/how that bigger redefinition meetup might occur …

Tom, I value you keep asking the question of what people are going to the festival for – that range of reasons. One angle I have on this is the old Rolling Stones adage – I don’t necessarily get out of being at Uncivilization what I set out wanting – in fact I’m very hazy about what it is that I want or offer – but I get other things, which I might well have needed more, and that exceeded or queered my advance expectations. This for me is part of the ritual aspect, being ‘moved’ to a significant extent beyond the bubble of ego-centred wishes – which also touches a central theme of Dark Mountain: the unseating of human centrality, learning to be in acceptance of extreme uncertainty.

With all the synergy that’s come out of the festival I’m starting more – following Warren Draper’s proposals also – to see the potential for it to grow along lines more akin to Burning Man, perhaps indeed a longer gathering that might build an entire temporary infrastructure from scratch. One way to get participants out of their heads and into the grounding would be the process of building and doing practical stuff together.

I’m also very much with the push-pull of participants both finding a community of allegiance, but also being coaxed / trickstered into discomfort zone allegiances with those they wouldn’t *naturally* align with.

In terms of what might work, I’m pretty confident that there’s enough varied know-how within the DM community to be able to pool a range of tools, techniques, sources etc that could be pulled together.

Bembo, are you up for figuring out a go-public version of this once you are back home?

Every best,

C xx

From: Tom Hirons
To: Catherine Lupton ; Bembo Davies
Sent: Monday, August 29, 2011 11:50 PM

Subject: Re: Fwd: As things develop

I know we’ve drifted/leaped off away from that initial ‘opening
ceremony’ theme, but we can come back to that…
I get the sense that other communities and events might have a lot to
teach us about what we’re trying to do. Burning Man, Dance Camp, just
two we’ve mentioned. There must be countless others. It’d be interesting
in itself to throw some names together. I can also add Return to the
Source in club culture, for example, and their attempts to create a
sacred context for the trance clubbing scene in the 90s (among many

If what we’re doing is working with a community that’s happy to work
together, take risks together, rather than ‘simply’ a festival that
we’re trying to attract enough paying punters to cover the costs, then
we can be a bit braver, I think. (I’m *hugely* over-simplifying.)

In terms of opening ceremonies, I’m thinking right now of something:
DMers are primed to bring two things, either physically or the words of
them: a gift to the community and a burden they’d like to shed. As an
opening ceremony, everyone who has brought something, comes forward in
turn to offer it to a central table/stone/slab/altar/whatever. It stays
there for the duration of the festival. (At the end, you get to take
someone else’s gift?) The burdens are offered in a similar way, during a
night ceremony, perhaps, to the Mountain. This is a wicker/wood/whatever
(but combustible…) Mountain (see Warren’s thread on the ning…) which
continues to be adorned and dressed and totemised until the last night
when it’s burned and we do the whole mad carnival thing (maybe after
running the circles, as per last email?)

Just a thought, to bring some specifics into the abstract. Somewhere to

It never hurts to make a circle and call in the four directions – I did
this during my (previous) marriage ceremony, which was attended by
plenty of atheists and cynics and christians – done well, it’s a simple
way of creating a seriously potent sacred space for ritual. (Done badly,
you sound like a plastic shaman and/or the worst kind of
wannabe-Native-American. I’ve been both.) So, done well is good. (My
evangelical catholic uncle surprised me weeks afterwards by telling me
that his local priest had watched the wedding video and was so moved by
the ceremony that he wished to use it for the marrying of his own son
the following month.)

Enough for now.
Yes, let’s move it to a public place. I have fears of the conversation
being hijacked by forum trolls, but they’re probably unfounded. Warren’s
thread in a similar vein seems to be doing fine 🙂

Today’s a great day. I’ve had an excellent response to a poem I wrote
last night; a grant came through in excellent timing; I got some
storytelling/leather-work with kids with the National Trust; we bought
two deerskins for an excellent price from the guy who shot them in the
woods half a mile from here; and I realised I had to take up falconry,
then met a falconer.
Such days are gold.

So, gold to you both.
More soon. Go well.


Cat : I think your insinuation in a previous letter might be accurate; that frying my patience neurons in attempting to decipher the DM blog penetration protocols might just result in me getting royally sidetracked, and would I like some help?

If this is something that would elegantly roll through your fingers, please let it do so. Otherwise, i may just prove capable of inserting it into my wordpress, and then inform Paul of its whereabouts if he wants to incorporate the entire exchange into the DM pages.

Symptomatically, I couldn’t find the other threads that Tom quoted.

As for the meat of our discussion, it feels as if the time to have our first workshop is upon us. While all the descriptions of great events offered so far – The Dance Space stuff surprises me not – have great attractions — I’d want to see if we can devise a uniquely DM variant. Not because of uniqueness — I trust that anything that we come up with would awake a nod of recognition from a social anthropologist, but because it gives more body to the value of participating. When I describe it as intrinsic rituals — I am trying to find a way to coax people beyond the cognitive declamatory definitions we apply to our condition, and into the realm of confusion. — but let me stop there: this is what the collective does better than the hermit.

The local opera company seems to have inhabited the old castle down by the harbour this evening; I’m getting enveloped in wafts of warbling.

Tom: my brush with anatomical shrines was deeply moving.





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